Bolivia: The 1952 Revolution - How the 4th International and the POR betrayed the revolution which could have carried Trotskyism to Power

By Jose Villa

[First published in Revolutionary History, Vol.4 No.3, Summer 1992
Bolivia. The Revolution Derailed? The Crisis of 1952 and the Trotskyist Movement]

When the February revolution occurred in 1917, the Bolsheviks had been in existence for fifteen years. When the revolution of April 1952 happened the POR had been in existence for seventeen years. Both movements operated in countries with a peasant and petty bourgeois majority but with a modern, geographically concentrated, proletariat. Both parties had the benefit of working with the introducers of `Marxism' into their respective countries (Plekhanov and Marof) and their cadres had taken part in forming the first working class organisations. While Bolshevism had been formed by its confrontation with other Marxist currents (economists, Mensheviks, etc.), petty bourgeois socialists (SRs) and bourgeois democrats (Cadets), the POR had had to fight against the `Marxists' of Marof and Stalinism, the different wings of the MNR and `socialism' of both bourgeois and military varieties.

Bolshevism was tempered during the working class upsurge which culminated in the 1905 revolution, in the reactionary phase which followed it, in the new wave of strikes and the struggle against World War 1. The POR was born in the fight against the Chaco War and was forged during two great mass insurgencies, which brought down the governments in 1936 and 1946, in great strikes and massacres, in constant changes of government, coups and a short civil war. While the `general rehearsal' of 1905 was smashed, both of the two rehearsals of revolutionary crises experienced by the POR ended with toppling the governments. Bolivian `Trotskyism' had its programme endorsed by the university students and the miners and could pride itself on having had within its ranks the main leaders of the FSTMB and the CON[1].

The role of the POR in the April events was such that even one of the founders of the Stalinist party recognised that of the five main leaders of the insurrection, one was of the MNR right, another was of the pro-POR wing of the MNR, and three were POR: "This armed uprising was led and guided to victory by the leading personnel of the MNR, Hernán Siles Zuazo, Juan Lechín Oquendo, Edwin Moller, Alandia Pantojas, Villegas and others". [2](Memorias del primer ministro obrero, Waldo Alvarez, La Paz, 1986 p.188).

In Lucha Obrera, the POR boasted that "when top MNR leaders thought about flight, it was our comrades who lead the people and proletariat of Oruro to victory (...) our militants were the real leaders in the defence of Villa Pavon and Miraflores that in practice saved the difficult situation for the revolutionaries when the enemy already appeared to be triumphant within the city".[3] (LO 12.6.52, p.3).

Within the COB, the dominant power in the country, the POR was the most important and influential party. The historian Alexander states that: "The POR which had in large part been able to determine the ideological orientation and dynamism of the Workers Center", "For the first six months the COB was practically in the hands of the Trotskyists".[4]

Lora admits that "Immediately after the 9th April 1952, the MNR operated as a inactive minority within the trade union organisations. It had little success because mass radicalisation had reached its highest point."[5](Sindicatos y revolución, G Lora, La Paz, 1960, p.31).

"The whole of the opening struggle for the formation of the Trade Union Centre was in the hands of POR militants and a large part of the full-time Staff and the whole orientation of the brand new COB was Trotskyist. Lechín did no more than operate under the powerful pressure of the masses and the POR. In the speeches of the workers' leaders of this period and in the plans presented to the Paz Estenssoro Cabinet can be found the imprint of the POR".[6] (La Revolución boliviana: Análisis crítico, Guillermo Lora, La Paz, 1963, p.254).

While the MNR was weak for several months after the uprising of April, the POR CC continued boasting to itself about its majority in the COB. "Our unchallenged present majority is a clear proof of our slow but solid and sure work, undertaken by the party in this sense".[7] (Boletin Interno, no 13, POR, 1953, p.11).

The COB was born brandishing the Theses of Pulacayo, and with a POR programme and orientation. When it was founded the POR displayed its total identification with its conduct. "The COB was born then with a clear conception of its independent class position, faithfully interpreting in its transitional programme the broad mass movement"[8] (LO, 18.4.52., p.2).

The historian Dunkerley maintains that "much of the preparatory work (of founding the COB) was undertaken by the POR representatives, Edwin Moller, Miguel Alandia and José Zegada".[9] (Rebelión en las venas, James Dunkerley, Ed Quipus, 1982, La Paz p.50 -Verso edition p.45). "The POR allegeedly controlled at least half the COB's 13 man central committee.[10] (ibid, p.67, Verso Edition p.64. The editor of the English text omitted `allegedly' before `controlled').

In October 1952 a journalist, claiming to be a Trotskyist critical of the POR, admitted that within the COB "the largest fraction is that of the POR; next comes the group of Lechín and Torres, that is the nationalist wing of the unions while the Stalinists are in third place with scarcely five votes".[11]

It took the Russian Bolsheviks from February to October to obtain a majority in the Soviets and when they had got it they moved to insurrection. The POR however controlled the COB from its first moments. While the Bolsheviks were a minority within the Russian working class for these eight months the POR led the COB for the first crucial six months after the insurrection which dispersed the bourgeois army. The programme, the leadership and the Press of the COB were the work of the POR. The main leader of the COB functioned by reading out speeches written by the POR.

However, there was a huge difference between the POR and Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks demanded of the Soviets that they should give no class support to the bourgeois-democratic, reformist coalition government and that instead they should break with the bourgeoisie and take all power in their own hands. The POR, in contrast, gave `critical support' to the bourgeois government and asked to be given ministerial posts. While the Bolsheviks attacked the Mensheviks and the SRs without pity, seeking to remove them from leadership positions, the POR identified itself with the labour bureaucracy (for whom they drafted speeches and ministerial plans) and sought to transform the bourgeois party and its government. The Bolshevik strategy was to make a new revolution while that of the POR was to reform the MNR and its government. In short, while Bolshevism was Leninist, the POR was Lechínist.

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